Saviors of Kamigawa for Constructed – The Black Cards

Today Zvi covers all that black has to offer including a few real winners, an entry that gets no stars whatsoever, and a photoshop that you have to see to believe.

Those Who Don’t Learn From History And Are Therefore Doomed To Repeat It:

Urza’s Block breaks the game with overpowered artifacts, shaking people’s faith in the game.

Mirrodin Block breaks the game with overpowered artifacts, shaking people’s faith in the game.

The Urza’s block tournament is won by a deck that uses a powerful Red spell to sweep the board.

The Mirrodin block tournament is won by a deck that uses a powerful Red spell to sweep the board.

Many Urza’s block cards have to be banned.

Many Mirrodin block cards have to be banned.

After Urza’s block, Wizards brought Randy into R&D to fix the problem.

After Mirrodin block, Wizards promoted Randy within R&D to fix the problem.

Mercadian Masques has a deliberately slow pace and low power level, and is overshadowed in Standard by the previous block. Everything in the block costs a billion mana.

Kawigawa Block has a deliberately slow pace and low power level, and is overshadowed in standard by the previous block. Everything in the block costs a billion mana.

The central theme of MM is a war between the good people and those who would destroy them.

The central theme of CHK is a war between the good people and those who would destroy them.

Most casual players think the best deck in MM is WW, and it is one of the two most popular decks, but a control deck that locks the opponent down wins the block PT.

Most casual players think the best deck in CHK is WW, and it is one of the two most popular decks, but a control deck that locks the opponent down wins the block PT.

A key weapon against the most popular MM block deck is a four-mana Winter Orb variant, Rising Waters.

A key weapon against the most popular CHK block deck is a four-mana Winter Orb variant, Hokori, Dust Drinker.

Prophecy, the second MM block expansion, is full of cycles and cards that appeal to casual players but not pros.

Saviors of Kawigawa, the second CHK block expansion, is full of cycles and cards that appeal to casual players but not pros.

The next block after MM is Invasion, which has a traditional fantasy setting with a central multicolor theme.

The next block after CHK is Ravnica, which has a traditional fantasy setting with a central multicolor theme.

Invasion fixes everything.

Don’t panic.

Akuta, Born of Ash 2BB

Legendary Creature – Spirit


At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have more cards in hand than each opponent, you may sacrifice a Swamp. If you do, return Akuta, Born of Ash from your graveyard to play.


“The ash can keep him.” – Toshiro Umezawa


He is overpriced the first time around and when you get him back he still didn’t net you a card, but you did get him in exchange for a land. The problem is he’d have to come back several times to be worthwhile, your opponent has no good reason to have to let you do that and by that time there is a very good chance that this will be lost among far bigger effects. The decks you most want to activate him against won’t let you.

Choice of Damnations 5B

Sorcery – Arcane

Target opponent chooses a number. You may have that player lose that much life. If you don’t, that player sacrifices all but that many permanents.

You’re damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.


All right, that was a little obvious, but the more I thought about the more I didn’t have much choice. This is one of those interesting cards that make going through these sets worthwhile. Your opponent will give you a choice, but only one of those options has to be worth considering. He can force you to make him lose life, he can’t force you to make him lose permanents without losing most of what he has in play. Most of the time you’ll get to choose between killing two or three cards and causing him to lose the rest in life, assuming he’s not in any danger of dying on the spot. The card this should be compared to is Fireball or Corrupt. If they decide to just brace for impact and take all the damage, they’ll usually end up losing a little bit more than they would have if you had gone to the face with an X spell, since most permanents are lands most of the time. Against a control deck they’ll often have no good choices. Still, you’ll generally get a bigger life swing out of Corrupt or Kokusho. When they’re about to die, they’ll lose a lot of permanents, but a spell like Fireball would have killed them outright. When they’re not about to die, this gets better in the comparison and does a lot of damage, but I would rather have a more flexible expensive weapon.

Death Denied XBB

Instant – Arcane

Return X target creature cards from your graveyard to your hand.

There’s no stage two if stage one is done right.


How often are there a large number of creature spells worth bringing back? To make this worthwhile it has to be better than Soulless Revival, whose splice ability is highly valuable and leads to an infinite engine. Death Denied is a different type of spell, made for a deck full of creatures that wants to bring them back for a second round in matchups where the opponent plans to win with removal or by trading creatures off. In exactly the right matchup this plan can work, but in general it is terrible. By the time you’re casting the same creatures a second time, your opponent has moved on to bigger and better things that are now kicking your ass. It takes a long time to get full value from this card, at which point what it gets you is no longer full value.

Because it sounds cool.

Death of a Thousand Stings 4B

Instant – Arcane

Target player loses 1 life and you gain 1 life.

At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have more cards in hand than each opponent, you may return Death of a Thousand Stings from your graveyard to your hand.

“Oh, more like twenty. They just think it’s cool to call it death of a thousand stings.” – Toshiro Umezawa to Tetsuo Umezawa


This is not an efficient way of killing an opponent, and if you want to include one card to make sure your opponents eventually die there are many better choices. If you’re using this as part of an engine, its casting cost will hurt more than the free recursion helps. For five mana, you should get more than an extra card and a two-point life swing, and there’s always a chance this won’t fire properly out of your graveyard.

Deathknell Kami 1B

Creature – Spirit


2: Deathknell Kami gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Sacrifice it at end of turn.

Soulshift 1.


Don’t cry for me, I’m already dead.


Compare this to Nantuko Shade to see just how awful it is. The two things a pumpable creature needs to be something more than terrible are efficient 1-for-1 pumping of mana into power and starting off with a reasonable power level before the pumping begins. This offers not only neither, but will kill itself the moment you try and do anything with it. That’s awful, just terrible.

Deathmask Nezumi 2B

Creature – Rat Shaman

As long as you have seven or more cards in your hand, Deathmask Nezumi gets +2/+1 and has fear.


“I will rule by fear, but using actual rats seems like it would turn people off.” – Toshiro Umezawa


When you have seven cards in your hand this is about one mana cheaper than it should be, but having seven cards is a steep requirement even if you can count on having more cards than your opponent. It is even harder when you consider that this card only makes sense in an offensive deck and that such decks can’t afford to hold back. You can’t use this properly on defense or offense even if it was good enough to be good at its job, and it’s not even good at its job.

Neverending Torment – 4BB


Search for X cards in target player’s library, where X is the number of cards in your hand, and remove them from the game. That player shuffles his or her library

Epic (For the rest of the game you can’t play spells. At the beginning of each of your upkeeps, copy this spell except for it’s epic ability)

It’s the only thing keeping radical judges off the bench.


When you cast Neverending Torment, you give up the ability to play spells. In exchange for that you get to knock a likely maximum of seven cards per turn from their library out of the game. Presumably if this resolves, you’ll win in a few turns, but until then you have to make sure you don’t die and it helps when you’re doing that if you are allowed to cast spells.

Exile into Darkness 4B


Target player sacrifices a creature with converted mana cost 3 or less.

At the beginning of your upkeep, if you have more cards in hand than each opponent, you may return Exile into Darkness from your graveyard to your hand.

“They came with empty promises, but they are small men. Let them go. May they leave in shame never to return.” – Toshiro Umezawa


The problem with this card is the same one as Death of a Thousand Strings – that it costs five mana and does not do much. You have to cast this as a sorcery, which is a big drawback to something that you do when you have nothing better to do but at least this does give you a genuine one mana spell. I wonder what set will have that card:



Target player sacrifices a creature with converted mana cost 3 or less.

This card does have the potential to give someone serious long term trouble and would be murder on the standard issue WW decks if you survived long enough to start the engine and the Tallowisp engine didn’t give them a bigger hand than yours. Despite that, most often you’ll need something that offers a more immediate solution in the matchups where this can create a long-term lock.

And now it’s time for everyone’s favorite ongoing feature, find the missing keyword:

Footsteps of the Goryo 2B

Sorcery – Arcane

Return target creature card from your graveyard to play. Sacrifice that creature at end of turn.

“You might want to make haste. I think someone’s coming.” – Ben-Ben, Akki Hermit


Nothing ever came, because the creature just went ahead and died again. I had to check a second spoiler list to make sure I wasn’t reading this card wrong. It doesn’t give haste, it has to be cast on your turn so the creature can’t block, and the creature goes away at end of turn. I’m not saying that I’d love the card if it granted haste, but without it there’s no point at all. I mean, there’s one thing I can think of from this set but I’m just not going to go there.

Ghost-Lit Stalker – B

Creature – Spirit

4B, T: Target player discards two cards. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.

Channel – 5BB, Discard Ghost-Lit Stalker: Target player discards four cards. Play this ability only any time you could play a sorcery.


A ghost crosses over so you lose your whole hand. Wait a minute…


Now we’re talking. This shows a glimmer of a real channel spell, just when I worried that the whole mechanic was going to go to waste. It is still going to waste until I get to other cards later on, but this at least is interesting. Late in the game this can devastate your opponent, although it has the sorcery restriction to prevent you from locking your opponent down for seven mana and the cost of recursion because that would have been too dangerous. In play this comes down for one mana, which gives it some use even if it never does anything, and nets you advantage if it ever activates. The problem is it is never going to be quite what you’re looking for, and Nezumi Shortfang is going to be better.

Gnat Miser – B

Creature – Rat Shaman

Each opponent’s maximum hand size is reduced by one.


He saves his money because he’s determined to win the rat race.


If you go first, then there’s a good chance that you’ll force your opponent to discard, but it will be his choice what to discard so it won’t have that much impact. Otherwise this will end up doing almost nothing almost all of the time. Six should be enough cards, and if it isn’t then I’d much rather knock cards out of their hand with discard then try to reduce their maximum hand size.

Hand of Cruelty – BB

Creature – Human Samurai

Protection from white, Bushido 1


“Never say ‘on the other hand’ to me again.” – Masako the Humorless


I only have so much space to devote to each card, so go to http://www.wizards.com/default.asp?x=mtgcom/daily/mf42 for way, way, way too many details if you’re interested in the history of good old Black Knight. To that I will add that this is exactly the type of exception that keeps things interesting, giving Black a better fighting two-drop than it would be reasonable for it to otherwise have. Everyone understands the principle involved here. This is Black’s best fighting two-drop right now, so it will see play whenever Black players seek one for the purpose of turning it sideways. Its main competition is Nezumi Graverobber, but that is more of a utility creature with decent numbers. The decks that want such things will run both.

Infernal Kirin – 2BB

Legendary Creature – Kirin Spirit


Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, target player reveals his or her hand and discards all cards with that spell’s converted mana cost.


A scream in the swamp cannot echo.


If nothing else, every time you cast a spirit or arcane spell you get to look at your opponent’s hand. That counts for more than people think. There’s also a good chance you’ll get to knock a card or two out of your opponents’ hand. This is unlikely to hit all that often in most matchups, but in mirrors where neither player empties his hand it could be deadly. It’s hard to tell how this one will play out, but it seems like a cheap, low risk way to quite possibly make a huge impact.

Kagemaro’s Clutch – 3B

Enchant Creature

Enchanted creature gets –X/-X, where X is the number of cards in your hand.

He still has no speed and can’t hit for power.


In the best case scenario this is a four-mana removal spell, and Black is supposed to be able to remove creatures for two mana with major restrictions or three with minor ones, and in the case of Horobi’s Whisper, a huge advantage. This clearly is not going to get it done.

Kagemaro, First to Suffer – 3BB

Legendary Creature-Demon Spirit

Kagemaro, First to Suffer has power and toughness equal to the amount of cards in your hand.

B, Sacrifice Kagemaro: All creatures get –X/-X until end of turn where X is the amount of cards in your hand.




This is a Maro I can support. One of the most valuable things you can get from creature removal is to have it double as something else if it isn’t needed and this does a great job of that, providing you with a large man that can turn into a board sweeper at any time. It may be a little bit expensive in both modes, but unlike many other hybrid cards in this set, Kagemaro does both jobs well and both jobs are worth doing. Both will also more than pay for themselves despite the extra mana. Black already has trouble finding good creatures to run in this slot, so this should fit right in.

Kami of Empty Graves – 3B

Creature – Spirit

Soulshift 3


Empty graves, empty text box, empty decklist, empty commentary.


This space intentionally left blank.

Kemuri-Onna – 4B

Creature – Spirit

When Kemuri-Onna comes into play, target player discards a card.

Whenever you play a Spirit or Arcane spell, you may return Kemuri-Onna to its owner’s hand.


Back of a deck, highest quality.


This has to be one the most inefficient discard engines I’ve seen in a long time. There are better creature discard engines and better spell engines so there is no need whatsoever for this card. The bar on five-drops has been raised far, far too high.

Kiku’s Shadow – BB


Target creature deals damage to itself equal to its power.

“Repent, for your end is near.” – Kiku, Night’s Flower


This is a solid removal spell, with the casting cost giving compensation for sorcery speed and its lack of arcane status, but the key will be whether it kills the creatures it most needs to kill. Meloku is one obvious place this won’t work, but more often than not the creatures worth playing will have sufficient power to kill themselves. I don’t like relying on removal spells this fickle, but if it gets you a casting cost of two mana a lot can be forgiven.

Kuon, Ogre Ascendant – BBB

Legendary Creature – Ogre Monk

At end of turn, if three or more creatures were put into graveyards from play this turn, flip Kuon, Ogre Ascendant.



Kuon’s Essence

Legendary Enchantment

At the beginning of each player’s upkeep, that player sacrifices a creature.

The damned go to Ogre heaven, and damned Ogres get to follow.


This is remarkably difficult to flip and not that many decks would even want to. If you are playing a control deck, the hope is that a 2/4 creature for three mana is a fine deal on its own. It is certainly better than your other options for three-drops. If it flips, so much the better assuming that your route to victory never involved attacking with creatures in the first place. I can’t see playing it given how rarely it ascends.

Kuro’s Taken – 1B

Creature-Rat Samurai

Bushido 1.

1B: Regenerate Kuro’s Taken.


Let’s face it: You’re not that into him either.


Once again the same principle holds for fighting creatures. If you don’t have at least two power, you need to cost one mana. This fails that test and offers nothing good enough to compensate for it.

Locust Miser – 2BB

Creature – Rat Shaman

Each opponent’s maximum hand size is reduced by two.


If you see him in play, you’ve mised.


When I read what this did I underestimated the casting cost by a full 1B. Admittedly on reflection it would be dangerous to put this effect on a two-drop, but on a four-drop those statistics force the reduction in hand size to be the primary effect. By the time you’re playing four-drops, this should barely matter most of the time and they can get their hand size back by killing the Miser. It could have been interesting to try and reduce their hand size to two or even less by ganging up on them with Misers, but this is simply too expensive.

Maga, Traitor to Mortals – XBBB

Legendary Creature – Human Wizard

Maga, Traitor to Mortals comes into play with X +1/+1 counters on it.

When Maga, Traitor to Mortals comes into play, target player loses life equal to the number of +1/+1 counters on it.


Do not call him up if you are not prepared to bring him down.


This is a strange combination of a spell and a creature, but think about how big it has to be before it becomes worthwhile. At six mana this is clearly not worth it, and every step from there is worth a lot more than the extra effect that you get here. The flexibility of being able to alter his casting cost does allow you to make him huge later in the game, but he has to be huge to make this any good at all so that flexibility is worth a lot less than it would be if you could play him profitably on turn 2 or 3.

Measure of Wickedness – 3B


At the end of your turn, sacrifice Measure of Wickedness and you lose 8 life.

Whenever another card is put into a graveyard from anywhere, target opponent gains control of Measure of Wickedness.

You must be at least this evil to work for this administration.


If you can count on your opponent ending up with Measure of Wickedness, this will do eight damage for four mana and that is a great deal. The bad news is that it’s not going to be easy to reliably hand over this card. Strangely the best way to pull this off reliably is to have a card that mills cards from one player’s library since that can be done continuously but that leads to your deck working in cross-purposes. Casting spells afterwards is going to be the standard plan, and there are various ways to set up sacrifices, but being able to work around an opponent’s possible spells is not going to be easy especially if they might be free. It is a disaster if this backfires, and I don’t think you can justify the risk.

One with Nothing – B


Discard your hand.

That about wraps it up I suppose.


All right, I’ve heard of skill testers but this is ridiculous.

Pain’s Reward – 2B


You bid any amount of life. In turn order, each player may top the high bid. The bidding ends if the high bid stands. The high bidder loses life equal to the high bid and draws four cards.

No pain, no need for life gain.


If you’re paying an amount such that your opponent didn’t want to pay one more to stop you and draw the cards instead, the only way you’re not paying the vast majority of the value of those four cards is if your opponent is so low on life that he can’t bid what the cards are worth or knows that he will be that low soon and can’t make the bid for that reason. That means this could only be put into a blisteringly fast deck that wins with a creature rush. Such a deck likely wouldn’t even want to stop to draw more cards, and given that you would tend to get at least two cards for a spell with this casting cost, why would you pay 2B and a card for a symmetrical card drawing effect even if your plan made it a bidding contest you could win? I’m going to be aggressive and say this card is flat out unplayable.

His name is DJ Star!

Raving Oni-Slave – 1B

Creature-Ogre Warrior

When Raving Oni-Slave comes into play, you lose 3 life if you don’t control a Demon.

When Raving Oni-Slave leaves play, you lose 3 life if you don’t control a Demon.


Better for him to serve two masters than bite your hand.


What would you do for a two mana 3/3? With Blind Creeper you would risk it dying or being unable to attack into smaller creatures when you’ll have to cast spells. With Raving Oni-Slave you are going to take three damage when it comes into play and then another three when it dies. If they start bouncing it or worse, then this could backfire dramatically and later in the game he’ll probably end up sitting in your hand uncast. This is a card that puts the suicide back into Suicide Black and if you’re not building a deck with that philosophy this is not an option. If you’re wondering why I haven’t mentioned the option to control an ogre, it is because there is little point in this card if you’re not willing to run it out there on turn 2 and at that point there’s no way to have an Ogre.

Razorjaw Oni – 3B

Creature – Demon Spirit

Black creatures can’t block.


Go ahead, you get in his way. While you’re at it, order him around and see what happens.


It will often be a benefit rather than a drawback that Black creatures cannot block. Every now and then you’ll want to block something, but this will also prevent something like 15% of potential blockers from getting in your way. If my deck was sufficiently offensive, I would gladly maindeck this as part of my core creature set as long as I was prepared to pull it against decks that were trying to rush me using other colors and that required me to start blocking. I’d love to get something slightly bigger for four mana, but if Yukora, the Prisoner would be too dangerous then this is a fine alternative.

Shinen of Fear’s Chill – 4B

Creature – Spirit

Shinen of Fear’s Chill can’t block.

Channel – 1B, Discard Shinen of Fear’s Chill: Target creature can’t block this turn.


He is the essence of where the sun don’t shinen.


Once again we get a horrendously bad creature combined with a spell that is arguably even worse. By now I think we’ve passed the point where I need to explain why this card is atrocious. Not all the cards can be winners. It’s also worth keeping in mind that the mechanic is not substantially different from cycling triggers and might even be considered a waste of a perfectly good keyword when we could instead make cycling part of the standard game, a decision I think would be wise. It doesn’t have to be part of a block’s central flavor to help us all fix our mana. I had a rant here about how they were wasting channel, but it turns out that they just decided to give the good cards to the later colors to make me think the mechanic was wasted rather than actually wasting it. I can live with that.

Sink into Takenuma – 3B

Sorcery – Arcane

Sweep – Return any number of Swamps you control to their owner’s hand. Target player discards a card for each Swamp returned this way.

All the hopes, all the dreams, all the promises of Memnarch buried in the swamp… and then the swamp vanished.


To get a discard spell worthy of four mana you need to hit them for more than two cards. Early on you can’t afford to return three or more lands and would certainly prefer to pay more mana so at what point will this be better than Three Tragedies? Not many players will even have more than three cards in their hands at this point in the game and returning five or six Swamps will always hurt. If you have access to Mind Sludge, this card is nothing more than a giant joke.

Skull Collector – 1BB

Creature – Ogre Warrior

At the beginning of your upkeep, return a black creature you control to its owner’s hand.

1B: Regenerate Skull Collector.


He keeps bringing a head back home, but all that means is you have to pay to send it out again.


You would match this with Chittering Rats, Ravenous Rats and Nekrataal. You could potentially lock an opponent on turn 3 after deploying Chittering Rats and Skull Collector on turns 2 and 3, at which point the game is already over if they don’t have an answer in their hand. There certainly are enough cards you can bounce and this is a good creature to have around fighting while he does all that bouncing. The protocol is obvious, and potentially with the help of Aether Vial this could help a perpetual tier two strategy try and make it to the big time.

I’m not exactly thrilled with what this set has to offer Black, but it could have been a lot worse. Black often ends up with a lot of cards that have strict superiors because so many focus on unblockability or discard or raising the dead or wind up as creatures with so little power they never had a chance.